Late last season, Niklas Backstrom suffered nerve damage in his right elbow that caused him to be unable to use his right hand while driving a car or holding a phone.
The Wild goaltender, who underwent surgery in May, revealed the nature of the injury and how much it affected him during a recent interview with Finland TV station MTV 3.
Backstrom, who didn’t play a game for the Wild after Jan. 13 but practiced and alternated as the team’s backup during much of the second half, said he initially hurt his arm in his preseason debut last September.
Backstrom said there were good and bad days, but he didn’t think much of it until aggravating the injury during the springtime. He said two fingers wouldn’t move during the Wild’s series with Chicago. Backstrom didn’t dress for the series.
“It was a bit scary situation,” Backstrom told MTV 3’s Timo Kunnari during an interview that was translated for the Star Tribune by Usanomat hockey writer Juha Hiitela. “It happened pretty fast. All of a sudden two fingers are not working. Even in rest, two fingers were motionless. I couldn’t use my right hand to drive a car or to hold a phone. There’s a lot of stuff that’s happened during my career, but this really made me stop and think. You need your hand for the rest of your career. I’m righthanded.”
It’s believed the Wild planned to buy Backstrom, 37, out of the final year of his contract (two-thirds of his $4 million salary) this summer. The team was unable to do so during last month’s buyout window because he wasn’t medically fit to play. There is a second buyout window this month now that restricted free agent Erik Haula filed for arbitration, but Backstrom’s new agent Jay Grossman says Backstrom won’t be cleared to play until at least training camp.
If by chance Backstrom isn’t ready by then and theoretically would miss at least 24 days or 10 games to start next season, the Wild could get long-term injury relief and exceed the $71.4 million upper-limit of the NHL’s salary cap by Backstrom’s $3.417 million cap hit.
However, the Wild would have to become cap compliant again when and if Backstrom was deemed healthy. Again, this could be moot if Grossman is correct and Backstrom will be healthy in September.
If healthy and not traded, Backstrom would be the Wild’s third goalie behind Devan Dubnyk and Darcy Kuemper next season. He has a no-move clause and thus cannot be sent to the minors.
Wild General Manager Chuck Fletcher declined to comment Monday.
“We are moving forward step by step,” Backstrom told MTV 3. “It affects a bit on training. I haven’t had a chance to play any sport with [a] stick or racquet, and it’s going to take time until I’m ready to play.”
Backstrom, the Wild’s all-time leader with 194 wins, went 5-7-3 in 19 games last season with a 3.05 goals-against average and .887 save percentage. In two years since signing a three-year, $10.25 million contract, Backstrom has started 33 of 164 regular-season games and played none of 23 playoff games.
Prospect camp ahead
The Wild’s annual development camp runs Thursday to July 14. The Wild will hold two free, open-to-the-public scrimmages at Xcel Energy Center at 2:30 p.m. Saturday and 6:30 p.m. July 14.
Of the 46 players taking part, the notables include roster hopeful Mike Reilly; first-round draft picks Alex Tuch and Joel Eriksson Ek; and second-round picks Jordan Greenway, Mario Lucia and Gustav Olofsson. Also playing will be free-agent pickups Grayson Downing, Brody Hoffman and Zach Palmquist; 2014 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Avery Peterson; goalie Kaapo Kahkonen, who scored two goals in Finland last season; and Dylan Labbe and Pavel Jenys, two prospects who are turning pro this season with the AHL’s Iowa Wild.